What is the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation?
Gender identity is a person's internal sense of being a man or a woman, a boy or a girl. Sexual orientation is someone's sexual attraction to others who may be of the opposite sex, the same sex, or either sex. Like other people, transgendered people can be straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual. Generally speaking, their gender identity – not their physical sex status – determines their sexual orientation.
What is Gender Identity Disorder (GID)?
GID is a psychological classification found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association. Although GID is the only diagnosis under which trans people may receive treatment, and therefore necessary, it also is controversial. GID has been used inappropriately and harmfully by some psychotherapists to treat gender variant youth. Moreover, many if not most trans people also believe they do not have a mental disorder.
Is Gender Identity Disorder related to sexual orientation?
Not necessarily. Many gender variant children and teens who exhibit gender non‑conforming behaviors are diagnosed with GID, and later in life identify as gay, lesbian or straight. Other gay men and lesbians conform to most traditional gender behaviors, with the exception of their same gender sexual relationships.
Yet there does seem to be some overlap between gender expression and sexual orientation. For example, some lesbians express their gender in a masculine fashion, by wearing men's clothes and their hair short. This is the area where sexual orientation and gender identity issues overlap and become blurred.
Do trans people exhibit gender variant behaviors in childhood?
Just as all children experience social pressures to conform, most youth who later become transgendered adults learn to bury their true gender preferences about dress, play and names. Many families may never recognize that their child is having severe difficulties, while others report children as young as age 3 clearly preferring the other gender.
Do gender variant children benefit from psychotherapy?
Gender variant children suffering from gender dysphoria may benefit from supportive therapy, by learning to accept themselves and to cope better with social pressures. However, since the GID diagnosis has been used to manipulate these children to become more gender conforming, in efforts to prevent the development of homosexuality or transsexualism, parents are urged to screen prospective psychotherapists carefully regarding their therapeutic goals and techniques. Major medical professional organizations have declared that homosexuality is not an illness, and that so-called conversion or reparative therapies generally do more harm than good. This same concern now applies to gender variant children, adolescents and adults.
What common experiences do trans people share with other sexual minorities?
They are all subject to the same social pressures to conform, which can include harassment and even violence. Later in life, many transgendered people, like openly gay men, lesbians and bisexuals, must also deal with discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Many trans people also often confuse their internal feelings of being another gender with feelings of being gay or lesbian. It can take a long time for them to recognize and acknowledge their true identity. And, like gay men and lesbians who do not come out, many trans people must cope with a profound loneliness as members of a relatively small sexual minority.
What common experiences do the families of transgendered people share with those of other sexual minorities?
The parents, families and friends of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans persons all may experience the same stages of denial and grief, along with safety concerns and much confusion when a family member comes out. Since the transgendered experience is less common and more complex, with more profound changes, these parents have an even more difficult time reaching the stages of acceptance and celebration than parents of gays and lesbians. They, too, are in need of much support and understanding.